Cat Dementia: A Very Real & Scary Health Condition Pet Parents Should Watch For

It's hard to picture your adorable kitten becoming an old, gray-haired cat one day, but as a cat parent, you know the day will come and you may even think fondly on her as a grandma cat. Sadly, as our beloved fur-babies get older, their risks of developing age-related diseases or health conditions – like cat dementia – heighten.

Cat dementia (also known as feline cognitive dysfunction) is relatively common among senior cats. According to the ASPCA, "It’s estimated that cognitive decline—referred to as feline cognitive dysfunction, or FCD—affects more than 55% of cats aged 11 to 15 years and more than 80% of cats aged 16 to 20 years."

If you've got a senior cat at home, educating yourself about potential health risks will better prepare you to deal with them and detect them as early as possible.

Here's a breakdown of what feline cognitive dysfunction is, symptoms, and how to treat your beloved aging cat.

What Is Cat Dementia?

Cat dementia is similar to human Alzheimer's disease. It can cause your cat to experience memory loss, behavioral changes, and in some cases hearing or vision loss.

According to Hills Pet Nutrition, "Like any other organ, the brain deteriorates with age. The aging feline brain often starts to show signs of wear and tear between the ages of 10 to 15, after which these signs may seem to accelerate as the disease progresses and the signs become more noticeable."

Since FCD is highly common in older cats, cat parents should look out for symptoms as their cats approach age 10 to catch it as soon as possible.

What Are the Symptoms of Cat Dementia?

Every cat is different and no two cases of cat dementia will be exactly the same, but there are common signs that may signal something's wrong and help you detect FCD. A few indicators of cat dementia are:

  • Unprompted loud vocalization
  • Avoiding social interaction with other cats
  • Changes in potty patterns
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Forgetting where her litter box is

According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the behavioral signs of cognitive dysfunction can include:

  • Spatial disorientation
  • Wandering away from home into unfamiliar territory
  • Lack of interest in playing
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Altered cycles of sleep and wakefulness
  • Long periods of staring blankly into space or at walls
  • Indifference to food and water
  • Urinating and defecating outside the litter box
  • Seemingly unprompted episodes of loud vocalizing, frequently in the middle of the night

If you notice symptoms like these in your cat, taking her to the vet can help you rule out any underlying health conditions or illnesses before concluding that FCD may be the culprit. Your vet may also have professional advice to share with you about caring for your senior cat and her unique needs.

Since cat dementia isn't a one-size-fits-all disease, your vet can give you specific information about your cat and what you can do to help her through her hard times.

How Cat Dementia is Treated

You keep your adult cat feeling young for as long as possible by making sure her brain is stimulated. Help exercise her brain with play. Try a cat treat puzzle and allow her to sniff out her favorite snack or hide treats around your home to send her on a scavenger hunt.

The less she's using her brain, the more her brain is going to want to slow down as she gets older.

Unfortunately, since dementia is caused by the aging of the brain, there isn't a cure for FCD and it can't be undone. However, you can help your cat maintain a wholesome lifestyle to keep her healthy with a clean, balanced diet, and not making sudden changes to her environment.

If you've got a senior cat at home, give her a big hug. Have you ever experienced cat dementia as a cat parent? If so, please share your story and advice with other cat parents in the comments.




Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

Author



16 Responses

Linda Mann
Linda Mann

November 19, 2019

After reading all these stories I guess I’m truly blessed. I have a 20 year old male who has been with me since he was born right on my lap I owned his mother who was Siamese she was beautiful and a great mom. She passed on Young but my 20-year old male is showing absolutely no signs of dementia or health issues. After reading this however I am going to make a special trip to the vet with him just to make sure. Thank you all for your stories because I’ve been through each one of the same things you’re going through now I had his sister and she died at 19 years old last year of liver failure and that came strictly out of the blue. I wish you all well with your fur babies I know they’re all parts of our family and we love them with all our hearts..

Marsha Crom
Marsha Crom

November 19, 2019

I have had two dogs that got dementia one at 14 on at 16, but so far it has been cancer that gets the kitties, I have a young cat that yells when she can’t find me , but that’s just separation stuff. and I have one cat that I got from Craigslist who has always peed in the litter box, but poops next to it. Possibly why the former owner didn’t keep her.. My oldest cat still plays a little, brings me a toy while announcing her “catch”. So cat- wise I have been lucky none have the symptoms described..I have six beautiful fur babies.

Jenny L
Jenny L

November 19, 2019

Thank you so much for this article. I had to put down my ginger cat Smokey about 6 years ago now. She was 21 years old and I didn’t realize until I read this that she had dementia. I wasn’t aware animals could get it. For the last year she wouldn’t use her litter box anymore. I put papers outside her box and she would go there and sometimes she could not make it there at all and she would go on the carpet. She also got very picky about her food and water dishes and she got stopped grooming herself and got very matted and finally she could not even jump up on a chair or the bed no more. I did the kind of thing I could think of when I had her put to sleep but I also lost part of me because I had had her since she was six weeks old.

Kathleen Speir
Kathleen Speir

November 12, 2019

My 14 1/2 year old calico, Callie, is experiencing kitty dementia. It’s so hard to see her confused and looking lost. She is peeing outside the litter box, she doesn’t step far enough in so it lands outside the box. Now and then she’ll poop just anywhere but those things we can deal with. The sad part is her meowing in the middle of the night. It’s a strange, different meow than her usual meow. I call it ‘crying’. I go get her and pick her up and cuddle her and she’s better for quite a while. She’s always been the queen of the house and the other 3 cats defer to her. She tolerates them but only really likes one of them and they are almost always together. I think Tiki is a comfort to her. They groom each other and sleep next to each other pretty much all the time. No tips or tricks, I just love and comfort her.

Raeanne
Raeanne

November 12, 2019

My senior cat, Odin (10y, MN, DSH) used to wander around the house in the middle of the night and would randomly let out this sad cry. I would call for him and he would meow back excitedly and run for me. I always thought it seemed like he forgot where I was.
Since I got a new kitten he has become more playful Both with toys and the new kitten, and no longer wanders around like that.

Helen
Helen

November 12, 2019

My 18+ year old cat howls at times when he appears to get disoriented. He seems to get lost and panics until he sees or hears me calling him. His cries are so loud and heartbreaking. He’s starting to have kidney failure and drinks a lot of water so I keep several waters bowls around the house for him.

Amy
Amy

November 12, 2019

My 16 yr. old DSH has bee inappropriately vocalizing for about 2 years now. Especially at night! He makes some very strange noises that are very uncat-like. I’ve noticed when he does them during the day, they are not related to anything specific, such as wanting food, water, attention. I have been trying to figure out if he is sick. He eats and drinks well and shows no sign of pain or illness, but we all know how well cats can hide those things. I never thought of dementia!?!

Diana
Diana

November 12, 2019

Thank you. Helps me be on right track for our 20 year old man cat. He is showing the biggest share of signs. I moved his litter box to my bedroom that helps. Two others in different locations. Good grief, he meows unrelentingly, and gets fed twice in the night. Sleeps with me, all cuddled up. Gets irritated and bites at me. Now have learned “that look.” Had him since he was 4 weeks old.

Lea Fuchs
Lea Fuchs

November 12, 2019

Yes, my 18 year old sister is a Black cat named Sable Lena. She lost her hearing a few years ago and is as vocal as ever. Sometimes she yowls and she sleeps often. She “forgets” she’s not allowed on the kitchen table quite often, even during meal times! She has very little interest in playing and has been like that for years now. Every now and then she stares of into space but we usually see it and touch her (can’t call to her cuz she can’t hear) but we have never stopped talking to her and when she is on our laps we believe she can hear our voice vibrations. We tend to put our hand on her side and talk and she’ll purr happily. We have an Extended household and everyone dotes on her. She’s the center of attention even though she is senile.

Helene Mackey
Helene Mackey

November 12, 2019

Our very senior cat (he’s almost 20) let’s out bloodcurdling cries for no reason. As long as I’m holding him in my lap, he purrs and seems very content. But, if I’m out of the room, he lets out this horrible howl. He’s not blind or deaf and he eats well. I think he’s just senile.

Phyllis
Phyllis

November 12, 2019

My late elderly boy, Bubba (27 years old) never exhibited signs of dementia. He was always the Boss of the neighborhood up until his death in 2016. He was always ready to defend his back yard. To this day I miss the old boy

Deirdre Alton
Deirdre Alton

November 12, 2019

My wonderful fur baby, Princess Yum-Yum (Yummy to her friends), will be celebrating her 22nd birthday next month. We first noticed a change when she began defecating outside the litter box (although she still uses the box to urinate). In time, she stopped grooming herself, stopped socializing with the other cats and sleeping much longer hours. We have made adjustments like putting cardboard on the floor outside the litter box to facilitate clean up and making sure she has more human interaction during her waking hours.

We know she doesn’t have much time left. She’s been my constant companion for 22 years and I will miss her terribly. But she’s had a good life for a rescue and I know she’s very tired.

Lynda Martinez
Lynda Martinez

November 12, 2019

Ty for the info. I have a 14yr old Shih tzu/poodle mix dog and I think he has doggie dementia. I see all the signs. He’s going blind & can’t hear well. I’ve never put a pet down & as long as he can get around, I couldn’t do that to Nick. If he’s in pain, that’s a different story.

Carissa R
Carissa R

November 12, 2019

We have 2 cats that are about 17 yrs old and we’ve just recently realized how old they are. They’ve become pickier than ever on their food and water. While they use the litter box, they aren’t always making it in the little box. It’s hard to watch them age but we just make them as happy and as comfortable as possible.

Christine Raitano
Christine Raitano

November 12, 2019

Thank you for the car dementia artic!e. Unfortunately my Pandora has a few of these signs. She cries loudly for no reason, states at the wall or my cabinet and increased sleeping. Im going to try the treats as shes rarely interested in playing even as a youngster. She would look at me like “You want to play with that feather thing? Go ahead, knock yourself out.”

Lorraine Simon
Lorraine Simon

November 12, 2019

I’ve sadly experienced FCD with my sweet Emmy. She got it at 15 years old. It came on very suddenly. She was an indoors cat and seemed lost, wandering in the house meowing very loudly. At first, I could just pick her up or have her lie on my lap and she would calm down for a bit. But it wasn’t long, maybe a little over a month, that nothing would help. The nights were horrendous. I even left night lights everywhere for her but she just yowled and wandered. My vet recommended a low dose of Prozac but that just made her sleep all the time. Then we tried Alprazolam, only once, and she couldn’t even stand up. That’s when I made the very difficult to bring her over the Rainbow Bridge. She was left just a shell of what she used to be. This is a horrifying disease. I’ve had other babies who lived to be 17 and 18 without getting this. I’m praying that my Jolie, currently 13, doesn’t get it.

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